Resident asks Udall to help fill the gap in veterans needs

Publish Date: 7/11/2011 in the Canon City Daily Record

Charlotte Burrous

WESTCLIFFE — Although the Veterans Administration has made great strides in the way it addresses veterans, there is still work to be done.

During U.S. Sen. Mark Udall’s visit Saturday to Westcliffe, Custer County resident Torrey Shannon talked about her husband, Army Staff Sgt. John Daniel Shannon, who is a combat veteran.

“There’s a huge, huge gap that still needs to be closed. We have three major issues,” she said. “Locally, we need to open up our health-care access.”

She said her husband was on a priority level with the VA, but it takes months and months to get routine care.

“We have two appointments coming up, and we have to go to Alamosa and back for each of these appointments,” Shannon said.

In conjunction, she asked what type of progress has been made to open up access to health care to veterans and caregivers.

“We, in my office, will always work with veterans and their families to work through that red tape,” Udall said. “That’s always a standing offer. Secondly, I’ve been working to streamline the hand off from the (Department of Defense) to the (Veterans Administration). Third, you are a great resource for me. Let us find out where these unnecessary gaps are, where there’s too much time and inefficiency as soon as possible.

“And finally, you made the point about local care to increase opportunity (such as) using tele-medicine and local clinics to serve veterans and civilians, as well.”

The second issue Shannon discussed was regarding caregivers.

“The caregiver law that passed more than a year ago took more than a year for me to get an invitation for that benefit,” she said. “There are caregivers who give more than full-time care that are being denied benefits. Not only do we have to wait for more than a year to apply, but also it’s only for this generation’s caregivers.”

However, it does not address previous caregiver generations, such as Vietnam veterans, whose spouses have stuck by them for 40 years and have struggled with no back up resources.

“I consider myself fortunate, but now I am stuck in a back log,” Shannon said. “I don’t hold out much hope when I see people who have priority and have to wait for care.”

She said she saw caregivers whose spouses, sons and families who have visible wounds that are being denied and this does not include the ones with nonvisible wounds.

“Now we (caregivers) have recognition, we’re still getting dismissed by the VA,” Shannon said.

At that point, Udall pledged to continue to push for streamlining the VA’s response to caregivers’ needs and the commitments that have now been made to support them.

The third issue pertains to  the budget and cutbacks that have been proposed to pass on to the veterans.

“We’ve already gone years and years without any type of an increase in the cost of living,” Shannon said.

Udall said the country cannot try to budget the balance on the backs of Americans who earn these benefits.

“That’s why you have to phase this in,” he said. “You can’t do it overnight. That’s why I urge my colleagues in the house not to let them make these simplistic black and white statements. You got to do this in a smart fashion. I don’t believe you’ll see significant cutbacks for veterans.”

Udall also fielded questions about the Middle East, exploration for oil, cooperation between the parties and balancing the budget.

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